Travel blog by a global nomad

15 Jun

Health warning: Nomadic travel causes binging!

With my days in the more or less civilised city of London getting increasingly numbered and a departure back to the wilds of Tibet imminent, I find my self bingeing more. Its odd really – most people binge (especially with regards to shopping and eating) when they go on holiday – to the exotic locations. I find as time goes on, I am the reverse! Worse, being such a global traveller means everywhere I go I have my favourite haunts and purchases.

Yah see, its one thing to excitedly pack your suitcase for an exotic vacation to Antarctica, Russia, Tibet or even Chile. But its quite another to actually go and live there! I find the more I travel, the more I crave the western comforts I grew up. So when I come out from working in these exotic locations, I make a beeline for my favourite restuarants and comfort foods in the various supermarkets of Australia, Canada and Great Britain. So in the UK I find myself frequenting the many upiquitous bakeries for egg sandwiches and sausage rolls, the supermarkets hold some delicous chocolates (although perfectly able to appreciate fine chocolate, its not a part of my regular diet asi couldn’t afford it – so a decent Mint- or orange-chip Cadbury chocolate doesn’t go astray!). In the UK, I’ll go to places like Wagamama’s – an ironic contradiction in that it serves the food I should be getting in China, but don’t! In Canada, the Uk and to a lesser extent, Australia, I’ll mosy into any middle-upmarket coffee-chain-but Starbucks and Tim Hortons for hot chocolate (the two highlighted seeming to prefer to serve dirty water as opposed to a proper hot chocolate…). And then there is the increasingly global opportunity to get McVites milk chocolate digestives… So as you can see, apart from the Wagamama’s, none of this is particularly healthy. But I find myself binging on my comfort foods because I know I am going away usually for anything from 6-12 weeks with no access to any of these conveniences.

But since I am invariably only in the English-speaking countries for a short period of time, I have to stock and be prepared to have no access to the basic toiletries and books we all take for granted in the English-speaking realm. Little things like a basic and very convenient insertable sanitary item women in the english-world take for granted is, as far as I can make out, absolutely banned in the rest of the world because of certain religious beliefs. Then there are the scented products – soaps and the likes. Some countries have scented products but they maybe to strong for us, or to synthetic, or in the case of China, made of such cheap and potentially toxic material an allergic rash is guaranteed! So I spend an inordinate amount of time and money in pharmacies in the English world buying products. Worse, since each country has things I specifically like, if I know I am not returning to 1 of my 3 favourite English haunts, I’ll stock up to see me through the drought inbetween visiting my favourite countries as well…

I’m also a gadget person so invariably I want to buy some gadget when I come out as well, so I now have gadgets sporting plugs from 3 different countries with different plugs and 2 different power systems. So I always have to make sure I have chords with heavy transformers which allow them to be used both sides of the Atlantic AND adaptors for my plugs for whichever country/ship I am in! At least the advent of mp3 players and software to rip music off your CDs taking off ca. 2000 meant I no longer had to take CDs with me (except to back up stuff) as I could play them on my laptop (re: iPods not invented at this time – just some 128kb flash players which were slowly taking off but being 3 times the cost of a portable CD player, not going far!)

Things might be OK on the book front if I read other languages, but I’m not wired that way (sadly). So I usually have to travel with a big stash of books. I could say its all going to get a lot easier the day they come out with an e-book reader with which I can curl up in bed with – but at the same time, it will add to my ongoing woes – the power chords I have to travel with now. And lets not forget I am working in remote mining camps which usually don’t have any broadcast TV – or if they do, defintely not in a language I can understand! So I have to stock up on DVDs when I travel. The DVDs themselves are fine to travel with, but I loath getting rid of the box, so tend to have to find temporary homes for them so I can house all my DVDs one day back in their original boxes…

But getting back to the power chords… Remember the pre-cell/mobile phone era? Pre-iPod era? Pre-laptop era? Pre-digital camera era? It wasn’t that long ago. In 1996 when I first became a global nomad, I was armed only with a laptop computer and a few CDs to listen to music with. Then when I had an extended stay in Australia in the late 90s, I got myself a mobile phone – now I had to carry a power chord for that as well when I travelled. Luckily at that time, global roaming was only affordable to those on business accounts so I didn’t take it with me when I travelled. In 2002 I went back to photography after an extended absence owing to a lack of love between me and the Canon camera I had at the time. A Nikon F80 changed all of that! So now I was lugging a laptop computer (for work), a mobile phone and several bags filled with film (OK, not technically ppower chords – but I’m getting there!). Then 2003 – I really hit the global trails again. Only now I was weighed down with a PDA, mobile/cell phone, 1 instamatic digital camera, a laptop (to download photos from camera and work), an iPod and my Nikon camera with associated film. And I wanted to carry all of this in carryon with the usual airline limit of 7kg?!  I estimated I was carrying nearly 2kg just in batteries, chargers, power chords and adaptors!

So I did what any self-respecting person would do. I pared down. I’d have to say my proudest moment was 4 weeks ago… By now I had got rid of the ipod with its riduclously large and ‘exclusive’ plug and now favour a tiny iRiver which runs on AAA batteries – all the better for listening to music when treking in a remote area as I don’t need to plug my device into a power source to charge up – I just change batteries (and let me tell you, thinking like that is clearly absolutely foreign to all the young 18 year old geeks in electrical stores who have clearly never contemplated treking in Nepal and how they would charge their iPod there!). In fact, I even went one step further – I merged my mp3 player, cell/mobile phone and PDA into one device – the i-mate k-jam. The only area this device REALLY excels at is being a PDA, but it is very acceptable as phone and when I get a 1Gb miniSD card that works, will be fine as an mp3 player as well. This device alone has slashed my chord carring capcacity. So I was so proud of myself when I left Tibet  a month ago with only 2 power chords – 1 for my digital camera (I wouldn’t consider the i-mate a camera at all – it useless!) and one for my i-mate!

But alas, what a difference a month makes… I am returning to a Tibet covered in carpet of luch green grass filled with my beloved ‘extreme condition’ flowers (ie high latitude or high altitude flowers). I thought (until I lost my passports) I was going on a trek through the Japanese Alps in late August. There would be no power on that trip! Worse, I had been exposed wrecklessly to the Nikon D200 when I was in Antarctica earlier this year – now was the time to go digital with my SLR! So now I had to plan for these 2 events. So I got my Nikon D200 camera – but with it came power chords to charge the battery – no more popping in 2 cumbersome big Duracell batteries which last me about 18 months… Now it was down to charging on a regular basis. I also a Canon instamatic (well… my Pentax was great but colours were a bit blue except for the little blue flowers which came out pink… Since I was planning on taking pics of blue flowers in Tibet… this wasn’t good!) which had come out well in colour reproduction and macro capabilities. Another power chord. At least with my computer I had built in memory card slots so didn’t need to carry chords for connecting camera to computer! But… The Japanese trek. No power for 10 days and I wasn’t to keen on carrying a computer on my back for that period to download photos at the end of each day. So I bought a portable hard drive specifically for downloading photos. Its defintely nice and light -but it to has its own power chord…  I think I can drop about 3 power chords if i sit down and check all the connection, but still. My brief golden period with minimalism was officially over. Thank goodness anyway for the all in one travel adaptor which allows me to plug any plug chord into any plug outlet without needing to carry several travel plug adaptors! One small saving…

And ironically, despite most electrical goods being made in China, I can’t buy them there because (a) I am working in a small town which does not even sell electrical goods except for large scale white goods, stereo’s and TVs – none of which i can take out of China, and (b) You just can’t be sure you are getting something that will work when purchasing in China…. So this leads to binge purchasing as i travel back to the western world and learn of new gadgets which will make my travelling life lighter (except, what to do with the existing gadgets I own since I have no base?!)

So you see, travelling and living endlessly out of a suitcase comes with its one perils and trials of bingine and experimentation.

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